Today’s story comes from guest writer Darcy O’Neil. Darcy is a bartender with a formal education in chemistry. His
motive for becoming a bartender was part by chance and partially to
fulfill his culinary desires. Darcy currently works as a bartender and
spends his time writing about his mixology, and spirit tasting,
experiences on his website, The Art of Drink.
Every once in a while you come across something at your local liquor store that catches your eye. Sometimes it is the bottle and sometimes it is what’s in the bottle that peaks your interest. In this case it was both. Compass Box is well know for making a variety of unique scotch whiskies, that usually follow traditional taste profiles, however with the very limited release of their Magic Cask whisky, they have moved into new territory. The bottle is nicely designed, and heavier than you’d think, but it was the liquid inside that made the purchase necessary. When you take a 16 year old Linkwood malt and age it for an additional year in a Madeira barrique, then blend it with a 14 year old Clynelish malt, you’ve just got to try it.
The Magic Cask was a special release for the Liquor Control Board of
Ontario (LCBO) and is only available in Ontario. Because John Glaser
created this product as an experiment, he wasn’t quite sure what to do
with it until the LCBO opportunity presented itself. Because Canadian
whisky makers are allowed to use up to 9.09% flavouring (i.e. other
whiskies like bourbon, wine, fruit juice, etc.), many don’t, but they
can if they so choose, John thought this would be a good product for
this limited Canadian release.
Instead of a used sherry cask a Madeira cask was used. Madeira is a
fortified wine from Portugal. The wine is rapidly "aged" in buildings
called estufas that subject the wine barrels to high temperatures (35°C
to 60°C) for a period of months or years. Depending on the type of
Madeira, it can range in sweetness from dry aperitif style to sweet
dessert wine style. Some of them have nutty flavours from the maturing
process while others are port like. For the Magic Cask, I would suspect
that a sweeter style was used to age the Linkwood malt.
Because sherry casks are often used to age whisky and scotch, the
use of a Madeira cask isn’t wildly different, but it does provide a
different flavour profile. The combination of Speyside and Highland
malt makes for a very interesting product.
Magic Cask Tasting Notes
Appearance: Golden orange colour with a viscous appearance. Small amount of very fine sediment in the bottle.
Nose: Sweet, floral and smoky with hints of tobacco, like a nice cigar, and sherry / Madeira. No alcohol harshness
Taste: Very smooth, oily with a nice floral sweetness and a peat
finish. Slightly spicy and astringent. Not a lot of oak, but you can
definitely taste the Madeira and its sweetness. Good lingering peat
With a Couple Drops of Water
Nose: Less sweetness, same level of peat
Taste: The pleasant oily texture is gone. Alcohol is more present
and not as smooth. The whisky seems to taste hotter with the addition
of water and the finish is longer, more astringent and spicy.
Especially in the back of your throat.
When it comes to adding a few drops of water to open up this whisky,
don’t. In two separate tastings the water made the Magic Cask a little
rougher around the corners and brought out the alcohol. Straight out of
the bottle the Magic Cask is beautifully smooth and the intended
flavours are present without any harshness.
Experimental products are important for the industry and in the case
of Compass Box Magic Cask this is a perfect example of a great product
that doesn’t stretch to far from the original. The Glenora Distillery
in Nova Scotia is producing a whisky that has been finished in icewine
casks which is garnering a lot of attention. These types of product
will only benefit the acceptance of whisky by younger generation and
hopefully provide some experimental flavours to the dedicated scotch